4 Tips for Including Volunteer Work on Your Resume

Capt. Johanna Ciezczak, a force protection officer, wipes down a baking tray during a volunteer event at The Angel's Depot in Vista, California. All donations go to improving the quality of life for senior citizens. (Cpl. Emmanuel Ramos/U.S. Marine Corps photo)

For many separating service members, especially those who are leaving the military after one enlistment, their resume might seem a little sparse. After all, those who joined a branch of service in their teenage years and are leaving 6-8 years later don't have a lot of work history.

Even with all their military accolades, accomplishments, training and education, a first-termer's resume may seem very short at first glance. But military members do more than work and go to school. Almost every branch of the military asks its junior enlisted personnel to do volunteer work in their local community.

This might mean teaching grade-school students Junior Achievement classes, working in the local chapter of a veterans service organization, or participating in local government events. No matter what you did, it likely taught you some kind of skill.

Those skills can be valuable resume information. If you volunteered long enough, there's no reason not to include it as a position you've held as part of an organization. Here's how to do it.

1. Add Volunteer Experience as a Regular Position.

Be sure to include the organization's name and location on your resume, just like you would any kind of paid position. Be sure to include your job title, the dates you worked there and any significant accomplishments achieved by you or the group during your tenure.

Just because you weren't paid for the time spent there doesn't mean you didn't take away anything valuable. You worked as part of a team to accomplish a set of goals and likely used your communications and planning ability to do it. Moreover, it shows you are just as reliable for unpaid work as you would be as a paid employee.

2. Make Volunteerism Part of Your Story.

Showing your volunteer work will add gravity to a new career based on dedication and service. Serving in the armed forces is a foundational element to this budding career, but showing your dedication to a cause means that you are a team player who can be trusted to see a plan to fruition.

Volunteering also shows that you can be self-motivated and take initiative when the time calls for it. When asked about your unpaid work in an interview, be sure to emphasize that you are the kind of employee who knows how important one person can be to the success of an organizational plan. That might set you apart from other candidates.

3. Avoid Certain Information.

There's a reason it's illegal for an employer to ask certain questions during job interviews. It's against the law for them to ask about things like age, race, religion and national origin. Although it's not technically illegal, it's also a good idea to avoid disclosing that information through your volunteer efforts. If your unpaid work includes religious or politically affiliated organizations, they might best be left off your resume.

If you still want to include those organizations, try to keep the emphasis off the politics or religiosity and instead keep it on the business at hand: the skills you picked up while working in those organizations.

4. Match the Company's Own Philanthropic Efforts.

If your goal is to work for a certain company, it might behoove you to find out what organizations it supports through its employees' own volunteerism or corporate social responsibility efforts. If you've been looking at it long enough, you can volunteer for those organizations and become affiliated with them in advance. It might even help you network your way into an interview.

For those who haven't been targeting a specific company but still want to ingratiate themselves through volunteerism, write the volunteer section of your resume to be in line with the company's mission, vision or goals. Emphasize that you are a solid fit for the company culture.

-- Blake Stilwell can be reached at blake.stilwell@military.com. He can also be found on Twitter @blakestilwell or on Facebook.

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